Trinidad, on 2012-May-09, 03:07, said:
Different circumstances ask for different ways to chose a national team.
If you would want to send one best baseball team to represent North America, would you organize an open one week tournament and see who comes floating on top? Or would you pick the team that won the World Series? Or would you select the best players for each position (the All Star team)? I am pretty sure that of these three methods, the first one is the worst to pick the best team.
However, circumstances in North American bridge are such that it is pretty much the only way. There is no National Bridge League where teams are competing against each other throughout the season. The distances are too long to make this feasible. Nevertheless, the teams in the USA are tied strongly around a team "owner" (a rich, wise man or woman). Given the conditions that the players are pretty much committed to teams, the only way to select a team is to have a selection tournament.
In Europe, the circumstances are very different. Take, for example, The Netherlands:
- The top players meet each other hundred times per year in:
o the national bridge league for teams, MP pairs, as well as the IMP pair circuit. (These are "open" to about the best 60 players of the country.)
o weekly training/practice sessions for the national team. (These are -in principle- open for anyone who thinks he can be good enough to represent the country and has the time to show up every week.)
o training matches vs teams from other countries (Europe is small)
o a range of national tournaments in The Netherlands
o finally (for the top players only) the tournaments where the American top players meet each other (NABC's and big international invitational tournaments)
This means that it is much easier to put an "All Star team" together, consisting of the best three pairs (with some boundary conditions, such as: can these guys be on the same team?).
Yes, these players are selected by "wise men" (The Nickel and Diamond teams aren't?). But you cannot say that they are afraid to compete in their own country. After all, they compete way much more in their own country than the North American players do.
This is the case for most players in European teams. Each country has a national team league where teams are competing against each other in a way similar to MLB, NBA, NFL or NHL in North America. With very few exceptions, the players of the national teams compete in their national leagues.
Louk and Rico have also started playing USA regionals where they are no doubt paid very well to show up. And I have no doubt this will make them much stronger as a pair, even though their team will always have a sponsor. Bas and Sjoert at one point were one of the highest paid pairs at the US nationals (which means they make enough in 3 tournaments a year to live reasonably well for the entire year, even if they made no more money). Simon and Bauke have played the nationals here for as long as I remember, I think they have also played regionals.
To be superstar bridge players at all, you need to be able to play bridge all the time. This means you need to be independently wealthy, or you need to make enough money playing bridge to support yourself. These guys are 100 % cashing in on their success in USA whenever they get the chance. From what I understand Team Orange is given some money, but not really a livable wage by their federation.
Here is the problem with selection in a country where there are more than three great pairs. Look what happened in Italy, the selection was controlled by one of the 2 major sponsors, and the 2 pairs on her team were selected, leaving out Fantoni/Nunes. We can call this political or we can say it was justified, who knows, but I'm sure it was unfair to Fantoni/Nunes...so what did they do? They left Italy. It's hard to blame them, in their mind they had almost no chance to play the world championships, and I think Fantoni was #1 in the world! No doubt he would like to compete to keep that ranking.
I heard that Huub Bertens was going to play in the US trials recently. I have no idea if he chose to leave the netherlands because he was not on the top 3 pairs in the netherlands despite being a great player, and it would no doubt not change very soon given that they won the bermuda bowl at home recently. But it must be a sucky feeling to be a great player with no chance at all to be on your team because its a selection process.
At least in USA, a country with a lot of great players, everyone gets a chance to compete and earn their way into the world championships. Sure, it's damn hard, but if it was a selection would someone like me really have a realistic shot of playing in a world championship in even the next 20 years? It's very unlikely. Having a chance to earn it makes you want to play better, play harder, etc. Say what you want about sponsors, but making more money, getting on better/higher paying teams, having better incentive laden contracts, is a huge motivator.
The ability to play in USA for a lot of money has made a lot of the foreign players much better. They can make enough money to play all the time, and they can play with each other in fields that are very tough. This situation simply doesnt exist in most other countries, so as a result you have regionals filled with bulgarians, turks, swedes, dutch, chinese (zhao), poles (balicki zmud are top 10 in masterpoints this year I think), etc etc. It is funny that people from those countries then look down upon us for being too mercenary...ok! If there were enough clients willing to pay enough money in those countries, the situation would be exactly the same.